JUST IN: Court Bars Electricity Company From Issuing Estimated Bills To Customers
An Akure High Court has barred electricity companies from giving estimated bills to residents and business premises without providing prepaid meters through which appropriate tariffs can be determined.
Justice Adegboyega Adebusoye, in his verdict, held that failure to fix prepaid meters to customers, residents or business premises when the money had been paid amount to breach of contract.
Delivering judgement in a suit filed by a customer, Olutide Afolabi against Benin Electricity Distribution Company Plc (BEDC), Justice Adebusoye held that the distribution company breached statutory and contractual obligations having failed to connect the meter of a customer despite being paid.
Afolabi through originating summons had alleged that he had paid for meter in 2017, but could not be assigned one because his house was not yet completed, and that upon completion in 2018, he wrote a letter demanding that the defendants assign him the meter he had paid for. However, this was not acknowledged.
He said upon issuing a third letter making the demand, the defendant asked that he should pay N5,000 to claim his meter.
The payment receipt was pasted on his wall, but no one came to connect the meter. Subsequently, the defendants disconnected the electricity supply meant for the claimant’s house without any prior notice. Displeased with the action of BEDC, the claimant asked the court to determine whether the defendants were in breach of their statutory and contractual obligations; whether the defendants were liable and whether he was entitled to the orders sought.
The claimant sought orders of court declaring that the actions of the defendant amounts to a breach of its statutory and contractual obligations, immediate installation of the meter paid for, restraining the defendant from disconnecting electricity supply of the claimant and exemplary damages of N1 million.
The claimant’s lawyer, Kehinde Aladeditire, submitted that the defenclaimant dant was in breach of relevant laws and regulations such as; Electric Power Sector Reforms Act, NERC’s Connection and Disconnection Procedures of Electricity Services, 2007, Order on Capping on Estimated Bills in the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry 2020, issued by the NERC.
Also, he submitted that by case laws, the claimant was entitled to the orders sought, and established that the defendant had breached her statutory and contractual obligations. The defendant, however did not make appearance in court, neither did it file a counter-affidavit or any court process, giving the court the leeway to base its verdict on the originating summons of the defenclaimant.
The court relied on case laws which empowered it to act on the uncontroverted facts contained in the affidavit supporting the originating summons.
In resolving the issues before it, the court held that by the provisions of the EPSRA, 2004, the defendant had the function of distributing electricity supplies to its customers as well as installation and maintenance of meters. The court also held that NERC’s Regulations issued in 2020 and relied on by the claimant, abrogated arbitrary billings.
The court said: “It is my candid opinion that the essence of the orders made by NERC is simply that estimated or arbitrary billings has been abrogated, as a distributed licensee such as the defendant is expected to bill her customers in line with schedule one of this order.
Most importantly, the wordings of the said order presuppose that a distribution licensee as the defendants is expected to supply electricity meter to its customers free of any charge or at no extra cost to such customers”.
The court ruled that in the instant case, the defendant having failed to connect the claimant’s meter despite paying contrary to NERC’s orders, and disconnecting the claimant’s electricity supply without prior notice was a flagrant breach of its statutory and contractual obligations to the claimant.
The court awarded N1million as exemplary damages for the oppressive and reckless act of the defendant as well as N250,000 as cost in favour of the claimant.